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Are you scheduled to undergo back surgery in the near future? You are probably wondering what to expect when considering back surgery recovery time. While each person and each surgery is different, there are averages that can provide you with a baseline for your recovery period.

Types of Back Surgery

The term “back surgery” can encompass any number of procedures. It is most typically used, however, in reference to discectomy, disc arthroplasty, spinal fusion, laminectomy and kyphoplasty.


Your spine is made up of a series of individual bones known as vertebrae. These bones fit together in a stack to create your spine. To allow for flexibility, provide padding between the bones and protect the spinal cord (which runs down through the center of these bones), a rubbery disc of tissue lies between each vertebra.

When one or more of these discs become damaged a microdiscectomy may be recommended. In cases where a fusion is not recommended, or you wish to regain the full range of motion you once had, a disc arthroplasty may be recommended.

Microdiscectomy removes part or all of the affected disc. This is done to help relieve compression of the spinal cord and nerves.

Time in hospital: 0 – 1 days

Recovery time: 4 – 6 weeks

Disc Arthroplasty

Disc arthroplasty involves removing the damaged disc and any osteophytes (bone spurs) in the area. A synthetic disc is then placed in the disc space between vertebrae, effectively restoring functionality to that part of your spine.

Time in hospital: 1  day

Recovery time: 2-4 weeks

Spinal Fusion

Spinal fusion surgery is used in cases where a portion of the spine needs to be immobilized.

To carry out spinal fusion, your surgeon will remove any damaged or diseased bone and then, using grafts (either your own bone, an allograft from a donor or a synthetic graft), they will create a “bridging” between the vertebrae. As the bones heal together they create a rigid column. Usually, instrumentation such as plates, rods and screws may be used to help support the grafts and aid in stabilization.

Time in hospital: 1 – 5 days

Recovery time: 1-6months, depending on the extent of fusion


A laminectomy is typically performed when you are suffering from spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal canal (the hollow portion that runs down the center of your spine and houses your spinal cord) narrows, placing pressure on nerves and/or your spinal cord. This is typically due to normal wear and tear but can also stem from an injury or other conditions.

To eliminate the pressure being placed on the spinal nerves, a laminectomy is performed. A laminectomy requires that the rear part of one or more vertebrae is removed. This opens up the space around your nerves and spinal cord, eliminating pressure that can cause a variety of symptoms.

Time in hospital: 1 – 3 days

Recovery time: 4 – 6 weeks


As we age, bone density can be a problem, particularly in women.  A type of spine fracture called a compression fracture can occur spontaneously or as a result of a relatively minor fall.  Most of these heal without surgery, but some can remain painful, even after a reasonable period of healing time.  In such cases, a kyphoplasty may be helpful.

Kyphoplasty works to “shore up” the damaged vertebrae and make them more capable of bearing the day-to-day stress placed on them. To perform kyphoplasty, your spine surgeon will inject a special orthopedic cement into the damaged vertebrae. This cement hardens and strengthens the bones, preventing further breakdown of the bone tissue and the associated compression of nerves and other vital structures.

Time in hospital: 0 days

Recovery time: 0-14 days

Preparing for Your Recovery

It may seem like the days leading up to your surgery are the most important, but in reality, how well you recover will determine the long-term success of your surgery.

Making preparations in advance will not only eliminate unneeded stress but will keep you on track during your recovery process.

Some things you can do to help aid in your recovery include the following.

  • Stop smoking. Tobacco use is linked to poor healing and extended healing times in instances where bone healing must take place.
  • Arrange for transportation to and from the hospital. You will not be able to drive following surgery. If you don’t have a friend or family member that can help, your doctor’s office can provide you with the contact information for medical transportation services.
  • Have help for the first couple of weeks at home. Although you may feel better after just a few days, it’s essential that you not put too much burden on yourself. Arrange to have someone come in that can help with cooking, cleaning, laundry and other household duties. The same goes for childcare. Ensure you have someone that can help you with parenting duties until you are able to keep up.
  • Make all of your appointments ahead of time. You will need to have follow-up visits with your doctor. There is also the possibility that you’ll be prescribed physical therapy. Schedule these appointments before you even have your surgery so you can plan ahead.

If you’re unsure how long you should expect your back surgery recovery time to be, ask your surgeon. Armed with this knowledge, you can better plan your recovery from back surgery.